We had invited them in, being generous and flush of fortune, and treated them beyond all human hope: the porter we regaled with wine and merriment and our bodies lithe as fishes, the three dervishes we fed a meal to knit muscle out of bones, the sultan and his advisor we entertained with a mystery of pain and loss and transformation, and all we asked was discretion, to sit in silence at the end of a long night and bear witness—mere witness!—to our suffering that made all else possible.
Having taken everything we gave willingly, they took council among themselves, these ungrateful men, and said, “After all, we are seven and they are three, why should we be denied anything?” They broke their vows, and forfeited not just their lives but their honor, but we, being merciful, let them off at the cost of an evening’s biography, and turned them out unsatisfied, reminding them of the pledge they had made us.
Again they broke it.
Returned to power, comfortable and secure in silks and steel, the caliph ordered us before him, dragged in like thieves, and ordered that we open for him, that we spread ourselves wide so that he could sate himself of his curiosity. Having fed himself on our stories, the abuse and violence that marriage had inflicted on us, the beatings, the abandonment, the bite ripped from our cheek, he ordered us robed and married yet again, that our house be broken up and we be separated, then dowered our jailers with riches and rank, as though that were apology enough. He smiled as he did it, Harun the just, al-Rashid the merciful, and turned unseeing eyes to the blood falling from our lips.
The price of hospitality is high, too high.